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Joshua: A Book to Be Celebrated?

July 20, 2009

LOUISVILLE

The closing plenary of the 2009 Churchwide Gathering of Presbyterian Women was a “Celebration of Wonders.”

Emily Martin presented the interpretation of God’s word, titled “Celebration?”

Martin grew up in Dothan, AL, and graduated from the Alabama School of Math and Science in Mobile. In 2003, she graduated from Williams College in Williamstown, MA, and went on to pursue a Master’s of Divinity from Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, GA.

Between programs, Martin spent a year in South Africa on a Watson Fellowship to study how that country has responded to the AIDS crisis.

Last year, Martin worked as an intern and ran a summer mission camp for students in Mobile.

She now works for an organization called DOOR Atlanta, where she organizes weeklong urban immersion experiences for junior and senior high school students from all over the United States. The students sleep at Central Presbyterian Church, which houses a men’s shelter in the winter. Throughout the week, the students do mission work in the city and participate in educational activities, worship services and Bible studies. Martin works with a staff of college students to plan the experience for some 60 participants.

The closing plenary session focused on Joshua 21:43–22:8, which describes the fulfillment of God’s promises to the Israelites after they achieved military victories over their enemies.

The passage itself focuses on the blessings that God gave to Israel after the wars were over, but Martin provided the biblical and historical context for the text.

“Like a good Presbyterian, (I) just read the whole book of Joshua,” she said.

She described the conflict and bloodshed that led to the blessings described in Joshua 21–22. Given the serious nature of the historical context she had described, one might expect the Interpretation that followed to be a solemn one.

But Martin was able to deliver the invitation with humor and grace. At one point she said, “Forty thousand grown Israeli men allowed themselves to be circumcised — sisters, that has to count as a wonder!”

Martin described how some theologians justify the violence that the Israelis committed against other nations. She explained that scholars who acknowledge the violence tend to say things like, “The Israelites didn’t understand violence in the same way that we do.”

Although some scholars might accept explanations like these, Martin said, “the more justifications and qualifications I hear, the more suspicious I get.”

She said she is suspicious in part because of what she hears in the news today about conflicts and injustices that are happening everywhere — from the Middle East to U.S. inner cities.

While researching “the twenty-first century version of the Israeli-Canaanite conflict,” she described an interview she found with an Israeli woman and a Palestinian man who became friends after they each lost a child in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Palestinian Muslim, Ali Abu Awwad said in the interview, “To be honest is difficult. Nobody wants to be honest; everybody wants to be right.”

Martin acknowledged how difficult it is for modern believers to celebrate the book of Joshua given the violent history it describes.

“In light of God’s character and God’s commandments, I believe our resistance to celebrate a violent conquest is a faithful resistance and one perhaps allowed for in the text itself,” she said.

Martin included a call to action for Presbyterian Women.

Wondering what it would be like to be obedient to God’s commandments today she said, “Maybe it would mean viewing the land not as something to take, but something to take care of, even as it takes care of us.”

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